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We’re nearly halfway through this week’s Barcelona test, with the 2012 season edging ever closer. We take the opportunity to catch up with the latest member of the GPUpdate Pre-Season Feelings panel and it’s Derek Warwick: former F1 podium finisher, World Sports Car Champion and Le Mans 24 Hour winner.
Derek, as a former F1 podium finisher whose opinion is now valued as an FIA Steward, how much can you still enjoy the sport as a fan?
I am still a massive anorak when it comes to F1. I am riveted to every race and now do two or three races a year as a steward, so I’ve got closer to the action than I have been for quite a while - because when you fall out as a driver you feel quite distant. I have to say, I thought last year was fantastic; I thought DRS worked really well and I am really anti-KERS, but I think that also worked well. The racing was close. Even though we had a runaway winner, it wasn’t actually like that. I think this year we are more excited about the prospects that we have been for a long time.
What do you make of the UK’s new split television deal between Sky and the BBC?
When it was first announced, because I didn’t understand it I was outraged. I thought it was wrong that the money-grabbers of Formula 1 had taken it away from terrestrial TV. It should, if anything, have been subsidised so that the BBC or ITV could have afforded it. But, with hindsight and having calmed down after the Christmas period (laughs), I have to say that I think we are better off. I think Sky will take the coverage – the explanation, the analysis and everything – to a much higher level than what the BBC did. I am not undermining the BBC, but I just think Sky will do a better job. I know it’s not ideal but, as a true sports fan who watches everything from tiddlywinks to NASCAR, I think I am going to be better off.
For one reason or another, Lewis Hamilton was somewhat off-colour in 2011. Is that poor form now a thing of the past?
I have to choose my words very carefully here! I think you are talking about, arguably, the fastest driver in Formula 1. A driver who got very confused last year - with his management system, his girlfriend situation, his father (and former manager). The negative press is always around, jumping on anything they can to create a headline, and those guys have given him a hard time – but correctly so because I think some of his races were massively disappointing last year, with Monaco being the worst weekend ever for him. Do I think he will come back in 2012? Absolutely. Do I think he will be stronger than he already was before 2011? Absolutely. I think he is the most newsworthy, exciting, quickest, challenging driver out there. He will go for the gaps that we all love to see, that everybody else is too frightened to go for. I think, if McLaren gives him the right car, watch out for Lewis Hamilton this year.
What if you were Michael Schumacher? No podium yet with Mercedes and possibly his last season coming up – what should the realistic targets be?
When I heard he was coming back to Formula 1, I really thought he could win because I thought he picked the right time to come back to Mercedes/Brawn. But of course they didn’t build the car they thought they were going to; but their best chance is going to be this year, which is why it is so exciting. Can he win? Well, I have to say, Nico (Rosberg) has maybe proved that he is not the Schumacher we remember. So, can Michael win in 2012? Yes, if the car is quick enough, I am sure he can grab the odd win, but I do still think he will still be predominantly behind his team-mate.
Prior to testing, the biggest talking point was the remaining Williams seat which eventually went to Bruno Senna. Who would you have chosen?
Sutil. Undoubtedly. In an ideal situation it would have been Sutil and Barrichello, but Maldonado has brought 30 million dollars, or whatever he has brought. Bless Barrichello, he has been a great stalwart of Formula 1 and I wish him all the best. But the future was always going to be somebody like Sutil or Senna, who would have a point to prove because they have been dropped from what are at the moment better teams.
To add to the drama, Räikkönen decides to come back – what can we expect?
I didn’t think I would ever say that I am excited by the fact that Kimi Räikkönen is back to Formula 1 because when he left I thought, ‘Good riddance to you! You give nothing to Formula 1. You don’t care about anything or anybody except Kimi Räikkönen and you had a very lucky World Championship!’…which he did. When he was quick, he was stunning. He lost direction, he lost heart. I think he has been two years in the wilderness and I just think he might come back the Kimi of old - and if he does comes back the Kimi of old, he is going to be bloody quick! But Lotus won’t give him a quick enough car to challenge the top three, which is always going to be Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren. I am excited by him coming back. Is he going to be quick? Yes. Is he going to be quicker than Grosjean? I think, by a quarter of the way through the season, he will be.
We’ve got to put you on the spot now:
Who will be the 2012 Formula 1 World Champions?
To be honest, the way that Vettel is driving and the fact they’ve still got Adrian Newey heading up that team, you would be a fool to say it’s not going to be a repeat of 2011. But in my heart I’ve got McLaren all the way through and, if they have built the car I thought they were going to, I think Lewis and Jenson are going to be really, really tough to beat. And of course…never, never, never underestimate Ferrari and Alonso. They (Vettel, Hamilton, Button and Alonso) are by far the top four Grand Prix drivers of the moment. But if you’re asking me to put my house on a driver and team, I would have to put it on Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull.
Derek Warwick was speaking exclusively with GPUpdate.net at Silverstone
Next time: Stefan Johansson, former F1 driver and 12-time podium finisher
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